The Last Big Chase of the Season...By Wyoming Standards

July 26, 2013  •  2 Comments

The earlier SPC forecasts were throwing out only a 5% probability for severe weather in south east Wyoming today. I usually wait until the 1030 (mountain time) forecast before deciding to go chase or not. However, around 0900 I took a look at the water vapor sat imagery and NOAA composite map and told Daow I bet the forecast would be upgraded. Sure enough, 15% on the hail now. Hell yes we're going! Been chasing storms in 5% probability areas for the last week or two with fairly good luck. 15% and you're pretty much guaranteed to see something in Wyoming. So off we go.

Wheatland seems like a great starting point, so we hit I-25 at our normal paced 55mph. Around Douglas, we start seeing two cells pop south of us over the Laramie Range. Pedal to the metal, and we're doing a speedy 65mph, no longer being passed by campers hauling 10 ton yachts. 65 is hauling ass for me, as 55 is great on gas mileage, and with all the driving we've done this season, every gallon counts. Surprised Daow hasn't left me yet with all the money I've burned on the roads in Wyoming over the past two months. Look forward to seeing what that extra 10 cents per gallon does for us oh wise and powerful state gov'ment. Don't go and spend it all in once place now.

In Wheatland we top the tank off, no need to run out of gas in the middle of a chase. Took a look at the radar and did an eye ball check on the cells. Seemed like they were tracking south, south east. Decided to meet them on the Hwy 34. After locating some public land, we pull over for a closer look. 

(a monster is being born, you just don't see it yet)

Seems like a decent place to stop, and there is some blm land just on the other side of the road to the west, so we open the gate and set up on a hill for a better view. The rail takes a bit of time to set up, so I quickly set up my 1ds on the south most cell and get a time lapse going. After the dolly is rolling, I go back to looking at the southern cell, sure enough it's showing signs of becoming a supercell.

(updraft and rotation!)

A few hundred shots later, pack up the gear as rain hits us from the north west cell, and we head south to intercept the most promising storm. We're doing light speed at 75mph on I-25 and STILL getting passed by everyone. No matter what speed I go in Wyoming, I will get passed...constantly. We hit the edge of the core around Chugwater, and of course, all of the speed racers suddenly turn into panicked lemmings and everyone drops their speed considerably. Daow is used to my hypocritical ranting at this point as I start complaining about slow drivers while trying to get around people who seem to have forgotten that driving usually involves staying in one's own lane. It's barely raining. About two minutes later...ok, it's really raining. A few minutes later as we reach the middle of the core we encounter a bit of hail, and it's getting larger, but we're almost through. The clouds look like they are touching the cell towers at this point, and you can see them rotating. I'm getting excited at this point, but still have quite a ways to go. I plan on getting ahead of the cell and intercepting it near Hwy 85. Finally we break through into the sunshine only to see another massive storm building right over my planned intercept area. Well, guess we get to see another storm as this one looks quite large as well. My only worry at the time was if the storms collided, then all those beautiful shelf clouds we just drove under would be lost in the mess. Luckily that was not the case.

We reach Hwy 85 and find a county road to stop and set up. The cell that was building over 85 has gone severe at this point, but was far enough east and south so we weren't under it. The storm I have chosen still isn't severe warned, but I know it will go soon as it had obvious supercell-like characteristics. About 5 minutes after my time lapses are steadily firing away, the severe warning is issued. Perfect positioning! I spend the next 30 minutes checking on the gear, checking the radar, checking to make sure the lenses are rain free, checking on Daow and blabbing about the storm's structure, you know...checking. Around 1630 I notice something odd, the cell is tracking almost due south. Well, I guess that makes sense, it's politely allowing the other severe warned cell in front of it to the south and east to take the south east route, being a gentlemanly type of supercell and all. Except of course that means it has to absorb the cell just to its north and west, sorry ol chap!

(nom nom)

With our powers combined...etc etc. The cell is now lazily rotating and doing supercell stuff, severe warned and generally scaring the shit out of antelope and cows. You know how much severe storms hate them, especially the cows. Back on track, I pack up the gear and decide to make the final intercept on the west side of the interstate on Horse Creek Rd. Only we don't make it as far west as I want. Good enough though, we never get tornadoes in Wyoming, we'll be fine. Just a few drops of rain and Daow and I will high five, hug, and giggle about what a fun day we had. Well, this supercell apparently thought it was in Nebraska, because it drops a huge wall cloud and starts acting all schizo on us. Note the big arse wall cloud to the left in the below image.

(excuse me young lady, may I get directions to the nearest cow pasture, I have a gift for my bovine friends, ahhh, nevermind, there they are!) 


I'm getting ready to set up another time lapse, figuring I can snap at least another hundred or so images when Daow points out the wall cloud is now becoming something less wall, and more trunk of terror.

(see terrorific!)


Well crap, there goes my plans, time to turn the jeep around and get ready to run. After quickly wrapping up into something that looks like it's very much interested in becoming a tornado, it just as quickly pulls up and twists into the clouds above. Phew!



Not quite ready to let the day end, I decide we're going to drive west a bit more and see if the cell decides to do anything else. Oh yeah, I forgot. Storms like this almost always enjoy flipping you the bird as they pass by and dropping quick and copious amounts of larger hail on your face. So we find a spot to park with the jeep's ass pointed into the incoming hail and wait for the fun to end. Poor thing now has battle scars from 3 larger than golf ball sized hail events, adds character right?

(to: cows and people / from: your friend, the gentlemanly supercell, see you next year, cheerio!)

So ended our day. Not a bad way to end the severe weather season...or is it the end?

Next weekish - Temple Peak!


Nicolaus Wegner
Haha, for sure there are tornadoes here, was just playing. We've had a few smaller ef0s this year from what I've heard. Have only seen funnel clouds in WY myself. Not complaining as I'm in it for the pretty storm structure. ;]

Sorry to hear about the damage...I spoke with some farmers on a supercell earlier this month and it gave me a new perspective on the damage they can do. It's usually the farmers that suffer the worst, and not just on rare occasions. Almost every time one of these goes through their area, they either get hit, or a close friend does. Really a bummer when you think about it, especially this year.
Having lived in Wyoming for more than 30 years, there are most assuredly tornadoes here!! I lived in Wheatland for 8 years & the year of '87 was rife with them. But many other years we saw out fair share. One day in July 1986 severe supercells bashed the whole state, as I drove as fast as I could from Wheatland up to Newcastle. While I was gone overnight our home in Wheatland was beat to death by greater than golf ball size hail. Over $18,000 damage to a 3-bedroom farm house in 1986. That was a lot of damage!
Really enjoyed your story today!
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